Opposition to the Rebuilding (4:1–23)
1–3 Nehemiah’s opponents, Sanballat and Tobiah, tried to demoralize the Jews by mocking and insulting them; they hoped to persuade the Jews to turn against Nehemiah and to stop building the wall.
4–5 Nehemiah responded by praying to his God. Nehemiah realized that when these opponents insulted the Jews they were really insulting God. Therefore, Nehemiah called on God to vindicate His honor by punishing Sanballat, Tobiah, and their associates. Give them over as plunder . . . Do not cover up their guilt. . . Nehemiah was, in effect, asking God to show them no mercy, no forgiveness, because they had hardened themselves against God and His people.
In the Old Testament, such prayers are common. And indeed, God will punish those who are hardened in their opposition to Him. But Christians do not need to pray in this way; we have an assurance of victory in Jesus Christ that the heroes of the Old Testament did not have. Because of that, we can follow Jesus’ example and forgive our enemies rather than call down judgment upon them13 (Matthew 5:43–44; Luke 23:34; Romans 12:20–21).
6–9 The Jews were not deterred by the insults of their opponents; the best way to deal with mockery is to ignore it. When Sanballat and his associates saw that their mockery had not worked, they plotted together to use force to stop the work. How did Nehemiah respond? . . .we prayed. . . and posted a guard (verse 9)—faith and action side by side. Jesus said to His disciples: “Watch and pray. . .” (Mark 14:38).
10–14 Some of the Jews, however, were becoming discouraged; the job was bigger than they had thought (verse 10). Furthermore, they had heard about their enemies’ plans to attack them, and they were afraid. Fear arises when people stop looking toward God and begin looking only at their circumstances. So Nehemiah encouraged the people to look toward God. “Don’t be afraid,” he told them. “Remember the LORD”(verse14). The best way to overcome fear is to remember the Lord. Nehemiah also told the people to be ready to fight, because the Lord would be on their side.
15–23 When Sanballat and his associates learned that their plot to attack Jerusalem had been discovered, they canceled their plans. The work of rebuilding continued. But as a precaution, Nehemiah had all the workers carry weapons (verses 17–18). Furthermore, of the men under his direct control, Nehemiah assigned half to stand guard, fully armed. In addition, Nehemiah appointed one or more trumpeters to blow an alarm if any attack occurred, so that the Jews could come together to ward off the attack (verses 19–20). Nehemiah also asked everyone to remain in the city at night—even those who lived outside—so that there would be plenty of people to guard against a nighttime attack (verse 22). Nehemiah’s own men didn’t even take off their clothes to sleep at night (verse 23). Above all, Nehemiah never allowed the work to stop.
Those ancient Jews in Jerusalem were in a situation many Christians find themselves in today. The Jews were surrounded by powerful enemies; we Christians are also surrounded by spiritual enemies. Our enemies taunt us and mock us; and just as Nehemiah and those Jews did, we need to keep on praying and keep on building. Our enemies threaten to attack us spiritually—and in some cases, physically. And just as Nehemiah and those Jews did, we need to “post a guard”—to keep watch (verse 9).
And there is one other thing we need to learn from Nehemiah if we are to successfully resist our enemies: we need to arm ourselves. But our weapons are not spears, swords and bows; our weapons are spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:3–4). And our armor is the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:1018). With our armor on, we will have the courage to face our enemies, even as Nehemiah did.